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A Little Town Called Robinson

The dealers, the mules, the corrupt cops, Al Pacino as Tony Montana - sounds familiar?

When I started watching ”The Business of Drugs” on Netflix, I was hesitant that it was going to be more of what Hollywood likes to dish out. Instead, the docu-series took me on an eye-popping journey with ordinary people who form the fabric of the extraordinary world of illicit drugs.

It is a world that causes 700K deaths every year - a pandemic-proportion statistic that happens every year and we don't even bat an eyelid.

This five-part series reveals the inner workings of the world of cocaine, heroin, meth, cannabis, and opioids. The narrator takes you from Colombia to Kenya to Myanmar to California to middle America.

The series is not about the deaths and violence, it's about the machinery that sustains the business.

The details of illicit drug production is the least of the stunning facts covered in each episode. Although, who knew that cocaine is cured with gasoline and sulphuric acid?!

The economic growth of southeast Asia has been fueled, in a large part, by money from tiny red meth pills called Yaba. Every element of the supply chain from the producers to dealers to the transportation networks to the delivery to consumers in far away countries is allegedly protected by the Burmese militia and warring factions, the Shan and Wa in particular.

The civil war in Syria brought a halt to trafficking routes through Europe and reincarnated Mombasa, Kenya as the cocaine and heroin capital of the world. Abjectly poor young men and women are the mules carrying drugs in stuffed animals and ferrying bullets of cocaine in their belly to points of further distribution in Europe, Americas, and Asia. In each trip the mules make unfathomable amounts of money. The curse is the level of addiction and trafficking crimes spreading like wildfire through the Kenya and the continent.

Closer to home, the legalization of marijuana at the state level in the US hides the fact that it remains a Schedule I drug at the Federal level with tough sentences for possession and transportation. The multi-million dollar cannabis industry is a cash business due to legal, banking, and tax regulations. But then there is Adelanto CA, a town on the brink of economic collapse, which has resurrected itself on the scaffolds of cannabis. The dichotomy left me incredulous.

The last episode on the opioid addiction in middle America, fueled by corporate greed, is gut-wrenching.

When the kids were young we used to stop in a little town called Robinson, Pennsylvania on our road trips to Toronto. At midpoint, Robinson offered a perfect location to stop for the night. Unbeknownst to us and while we were cozily huddling in motel rooms with the boys, the town was gaining infamy as an epicenter in the opioid addiction narrative. After watching the series, my favorite memories of Robinson will never be the same!

The value of the business is massive. 146B in 2016 in the US translates to 219T worldwide today. Add to that the cost of combating illicit drug trafficking which runs in the trillions, as well. Imagine what we could do to fight poverty with that kind of money.

The trail of ordinary lives left devastated by the drug business is collateral damage that cannot be monetized. These are the small-time producers extorted by cartels and militia, destitute mules, and addicted users. Poor fathers and single mothers forced to sell their ethics and their bodies to an invisible enemy that has neither a cure nor a vaccine.

The documentary will make you rethink the war on drugs, legalization, and medicinal use of banned compounds for pain and PTSD. For sure.



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